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Sat 13 Oct 2012 Updated 6 mins ago

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A father who was wrongly convicted of cruelty to one of his two daughters and had them taken away by social services has won their return after a High Court legal battle.

Picture: Alamy
By Sam MarsdenLast Updated: 10:32PM BST 12/10/2012

A couple whose two daughters were taken away by social services have been praised by a judge for “weathering the storm” of a lengthy High Court battle to win them back.

Ben Butler, 32, and his former partner, Jennie Gray, also 32, lost their children after he was accused of shaking their baby Ellie when she was seven weeks old. There followed a nightmare that lasted five and a half years.

Mr Butler served time in jail on a wing for paedophiles, while Miss Gray decided to terminate a third pregnancy fearing this child would also be taken away from her, leading to serious complications which mean she cannot have any more children.

Mr Butler had his convictions for cruelty and causing grievous bodily harm to his daughter quashed by the Court of Appeal in June 2010.

However, he and Miss Gray, from Sutton, Surrey, then had to fight for more than two years before the Family Division of the High Court in London ruled that Ellie, now five, and her younger sister, Isabella, three, should be returned to them.

In a judgment made public on Friday, Mrs Justice Hogg said it was a rare “joy” for her to oversee a child being reunited with her parents.

The judge exonerated the father over the "shaken baby" allegations and the mother from accusations that she failed to protect Ellie from abuse.

Recognising that Mr Butler and Miss Gray had been through an “extraordinarily difficult time”, Mrs Justice Hogg said: "The parents have weathered the storm. They have each been resilient and determined, and shown tenacity and courage.

"I hope now that the record is put straight, that with their tenacity they will be able to put behind them those difficulties and look forward to a more positive future."

The parents’ long ordeal began in February 2007 when Mr Butler noticed that Ellie had gone limp and was gasping for air.

She was taken to St Helier Hospital in Sutton, where doctors diagnosed bleeding on the brain, bleeding in the eye and swelling of brain tissue, the "triad" of injuries seen as indicators of a shaken baby who has been deliberately injured.

Mr Butler insisted he had not hurt his daughter and Miss Gray supported him. A different team of doctors said Ellie’s head injury was in fact caused at birth, and she went on to make a full recovery.

However, the father was arrested, charged and found guilty at Croydon Crown Court in March 2009. He was jailed for 18 months and sent to Littlehey Prison in Cambridgeshire, where he shared a cell with a man who had been convicted of sexual assault.

Mr Butler, a former removal man, was cleared after the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial judge's summing-up to the jury was defective and the conviction was unsafe.

He said after his acquittal: “These three-and-a-half years have been horrendous. I can’t believe that it’s taken so long to clear my name.

"I can’t believe so much money has been wasted on prosecuting an innocent person when there was so much evidence that it wasn’t a shaken baby case.”

Sutton Council’s social services continued to argue that the family court should uphold the abuse findings it originally made against Mr Butler and endorse the local authority's plans for Isabella's adoption.

The council contended that Isabella was "at significant risk of harm" in her mother's care and she had lied about the extent of her continuing relationship with Mr Butler.

However, Mrs Justice Hogg ruled that the local authority could not establish that Ellie had been shaken and said its findings must be set aside.

She concluded in her judgment: “It is seldom that I see a ‘happy end’ in public law proceedings. It is a joy for me to oversee the return of a child to her parents.”

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